Key & Compass Blog

February 22, 2016

Affordances: Diary and Status commands

Filed under: Interactive Fiction — Tags: — davidwelbourn @ 12:02 am

This is the fourth in a series of planned posts about affordances in parser-based interactive fiction. Affordances are features that enhance the playing experience in some way, perhaps by making the work of IF less tedious, less frustrating, easier to play, more attractive, more interesting, or more fun. Affordances may be said to improve the play value of a game; reviewers will often point to these positive features as reasons why they liked a particular game.

I wish to talk today about another non-standardized affordance which I will call diary or status commands. I’m talking about commands like NOTES, DIARY, STATUS, GOALS, SPELLS, DIAGNOSE, STATS, MEMORY, WEALTH, HEALTH, MANUAL, RECORDINGS, HISTORY, etc. Some games might even have more than one such command; for example, Hadean Lands has FACTS, FORMULAE, RITUALS, and ROOMS. (There’s a lot to keep track of in that game.) Sometimes instead of a specialized command, there’s an in-game object such as a notebook, diary, journal, or to-do list which automatically updates itself and which the player can examine when they need to.

To my mind, these commands and notebooks are mostly the same sort of thing: an in-game affordance where the game is doing the note-taking so the player doesn’t have to. Which, of course, is wonderful. Now, I have to say that I’ve been playing IF since the seventies and I like making walkthroughs later on so I want my own notes regardless, but I realize that a lot of other players just don’t find note-taking all that fun. So why not have the computer do all that work?

I notice that except for DIAGNOSE, all of these specialized commands are nouns instead of verbs the way most commands are. Isn’t that interesting? All these notes are things that the player consults. If they were objects in your inventory, you’d just EXAMINE them like normal objects, I think. And a player wouldn’t have to learn these new commands by typing ABOUT; they could find out as soon as they typed “I” during normal play. So, I’m gonna ask: why aren’t these diary things in your inventory? Is it just because we think of these notes as meta, a feature of the game outside the game world, something for the player to look at but not the player character?

If we can get past the idea that diary and status information is meta, we can add these virtual notebooks to the PC’s inventory, effectively letting INVENTORY be the command that lists all our current resources, not just our current physical possessions. This almost already happens, sorta:

  • When DIAGNOSE, a standard command in early cave-crawls, went into decline, we started to see health information moved into one of three places: the response to INVENTORY, the response to EXAMINE ME, or the game’s status bar.
  • Sometimes the difference between INVENTORY and EXAMINE ME gets blurred; some games even treat them as the same command whose response combines info about the PC’s appearance, self-assessment, health, and possessions together into one report.
  • In the game Darkiss Chapter 1, the inventory response has three sections, “You are carrying:”, “You are wearing:”, and “You also have:”. This last section is used for intangibles: a magic formula that the male protagonist has learned, and a curse that he may also acquire. Neither of these are lists of notes, I admit, but they’re definitely status changes, and that’s pretty close to what I’m talking about.

So that’s my big idea: turn non-standard diary and status commands into standard (though intangible) inventory objects. If it bothers you to force the player to type X GOALS instead of GOALS, feel free to add another affordance: make the verb EXAMINE (X) the default optional verb for normal objects the same way that GO is the default optional verb for directions.

As always, please feel free to add your comments below.

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